The announcement has stirred up the inevitable, expected and by now immensely tedious flurry of schadenfreude and faux-rage from people who most likely never played Landmark or indeed any other SOE or DBG game. Not, at least, in the last decade or so. Tyler F.M. Edwards at Superior Realities has the best take on the hand-wringing, fist-shaking echo chamber that passes for a community in some quarters these days:
"To be blunt, I think the blame for Landmark’s end rests squarely on the shoulders of the MMO community. When EverQuest Next was cancelled, the community turned on Daybreak, apparently not understanding that sometimes new concepts simply do not work...the community, however, chose to demonize Daybreak as some sort of ogre. They took EverQuest Next’s cancellation personally. And a lot of that hate spilled over to Landmark.
People hated Landmark because it wasn’t Next. People hated Landmark just because it was made by Daybreak. People hated it because they had misinformed or unrealistic expectations of what it was supposed to be".
Read the whole of Tyler's post. It catches the tone exactly, how Landmark meant a lot to those who loved it, how much it will be missed, and how galling it is for anyone who actually spent real time in Landmark to see the almost self-congratulatory bloodletting unleashed by those who never did.
An even more instructive read is Feldon's excellent post-hoc analysis at EQ2Wire. Feldon, as always, knows more than he's able to articulate openly but here you scarcely even need to read between the lines. The numerous quotes from ex-SOE devs, who worked on Landmark and EQNext during what must have been some very miserable and disturbing times in the dying days of the ancien régime, are devestating.
These are just a few of the highlights:
"…the decision to publish Landmark was not driven to sell something to players. It was done to show that SOE had a pipeline of products so it would be more attractive to prospective buyers"
"Landmark was a disaster. It should have remained a toolset for building EQN and nothing more."
"Landmark was Dave’s (Georgeson's) obsession, and there simply was no way to convince him otherwise about it being a game. I believe this ultimately killed EQN."
"Dave approached the project with the wrong assumptions and when the market pushed back he doubled down on his mistakes. EQN was his responsibility and he blew it, and Smed should have removed him sooner when it became clear what was happening."
All from people who worked on the project. And there's a lot more. Go read it if you haven't already.
Feldon himself has some choice observations, the headline among which is probably this one:
"The EverQuest Next “combat demo” shown at SOE Live in 2013 was entirely smoke and mirrors, with developers back at the home office “playing” NPCs."This one won't surprise anyone who plays EQ or EQ2:
"Feedback from the existing EverQuest and EverQuest II teams was largely ignored. Instead, credence was primarily given to outside feedback from recently laid off 38 Studios staff and other outsiders in the industry."
And, perhaps most tellingly of all:
"Sony Online Entertainment took a $62 million writeoff in 2013 for development costs associated with EverQuest Next and H1Z1".
I hold my hand up. Dave Georgeson, John Smedley and the rest of that whole, sorry crew fooled me the way they fooled the industry, the media and the rest of the fans. I wrote pieces in praise of EQNext even as I understood it would be an MMO that wasn't being made for me or for the millions of former and current EQ and EQ2 players but for a whole, new, much larger audience. I understood the compromises that would require and I knew and wrote that the game would not, in all likelihood, be one I'd enjoy very much, yet I wished it well and hoped it would succeed.
What I didn't realize was that there would be no game, no matter how long we waited, because no-one who was making it had any idea how it could be made. I didn't realize the Smed and Smokejumper dog and pony show was just that - a carnival huckster operation linked to some of the widest-eyed, most naive wishful-thinking ever seen outside a pre-school playground.
The very first comment on the EQ2Wire piece sums it up nicely:
"I am just speechless as how much Georgeson fucked over this franchise."
Aren't we all? And yet I don't "hate" him for it. I don't believe anyone in this whole unholy mess was acting maliciously. Like so many other games development stories it's a tale of people who think they know more than they know, who think they can do more than they can do, and above all, who believe if they say something often enough and loud enough it will become true by the sheer force of their wishing it so.
Well it doesn't. It won't. It can't. EQNext always sounded too good be true and it was. Or rather it wasn't and never will be.
As for Landmark, far from being the full-fledged MMO Dave Georgeson claimed, promised and finger-crossed it would be, it never even managed to be the toolset it should have been. As Feldon's investigations plainly discover, even the tools didn't work and when they did no-one knew how or why.
And yet for all that we had fun. I had fun. Aywren had fun. Tyler had fun. Even Wilhelm, who's keeping a list, had a few moments. Hundreds, thousands of amazing structures were built, projects started, memories made. I had good times in Landmark, some of which I've written about here. I spent many happy hours noodling around there and if I regret anything it's only that I spent too much time.
Far from feeling ripped off for paying some $150 for two alpha packages I feel I got my money's worth and then some. Between us Mrs Bhagpuss and I spent hundreds of hours in Landmark and almost all of those were good hours.
So, will I miss Landmark? No, not really. I'm glad to have experienced it but if I'm honest I was done with it a while ago. All my houses eventually fell down, including the final one I built after the game officially went Live. The main he reason was I couldn't ever remember to log in often enough to keep them standing. When you have to remind yourself to log in you can hardly claim you'll miss it when it stops.
And in the end, what was Landmark? It wasn't quite a game and it certainly wasn't a virtual world. It was supposed to be those things and a toolset too but the best description I can come up with is that Landmark was a toy.
Like a toy, I played with it now and again, when the mood took me, but as soon as I put it down I forgot all about it. If I miss it, ever, it will be the way I miss my old Hot Wheels set, vaguely and with a mild, warm nostalgia. I wouldn't go out and buy another.
I understand that's not how many will be feeling right now, although you'd need to define "many" rather specifically, since these days peak population across the entire game falls short of a couple of hundred people. The builders and creators, working on some of those stunning projects or just puttering around, like my old gaming friend who was busy building his own take on The Shire with some guildmates from LoTRO, those folks will be angry, upset, hurt, bereft.
Some will feel tricked. Some will feel betrayed. They will curl in or lash out. Inevitably, the blank slate of Daybreak Games and the faceless corporate monolith that is Columbus Nova will take a splattering of paint while the real perpetrators of this outrage not only escape condemnation but even reap the deeply undeserved rewards of misplaced sympathy: Dave Georgeson, who appears to have left the industry and Smed, who the industry appears to be leaving behind, not to mention the ever-anonymous Russell Shanks, who presided over DBG while more poor decisions continued to be made, as well as the rest who slipped away quietly while the sign-painters were changing the names on the doors.
Yes, Columbus Nova and the current Daybreak management could have finessed the end of both EQNext and Landmark with a softer touch. It was foolish to claim EQNext was being canned because "it wasn't fun". They should have said "because it won't run and never will". Because "we bit off more than we could chew, we had dreams bigger than our ability to realize them, because we made promises we couldn't keep".
They might have adopted a warmer, more empathic tone. They might even have resisted slamming the door on any remaining hope quite so fiercely, although that in itself might merely have compounded earlier errors of judgment.
They should have said sorry and meant it but by the time there was no putting off the inevitable any longer all the people from whom an apology would have meant anything were nowhere to be seen. I imagine the main thing Columbus Nova is sorry about is that they ever got involved in this farrago in the first place. Like the rest of us I imagine they were mesmerized by smoke and mirrors and sold a handful of beans. When they rubbed the fairy dust from their eyes the carnival was gone.
I'd love - I'd love - for the closure of Landmark to draw a line under this whole sorry episode. I'd love for late-period SOE to slip away into the history books taking its ill-conceived, ill-fated, ill-humored EQNext project with it, never to be mentioned again. I'd love for the current management team at Daybreak to be allowed to get on with day to day operations and business as usual.
Yes, I'd love that but this is the internet. This is gaming. No grudge is ever forgotten. No wound is ever allowed to heal. The very best those of us who love the franchise can hope is that Daybreak under Columbus Nova finally becomes so boring that no-one remembers it's there.
Fat chance. Next up, some necessary but controversial decision involving LotRO or DDO. Or an announcement of some new game that everyone can project their fantasies and fears onto without ever needing to see let alone play. The caravan rolls on.